Thursday, May 21

Newsmaker: Recognizing the Tennessee Pledge (WKRN-TV Nashville) The move to reopen the state of Tennessee continues to move forward. Business owners are working alongside government officials to stay in compliance with safety guidelines. The Chamber of Commerce came up with a blue ribbon initiative to honor those businesses that recognize the local businesses complying with Governor Bill Lee’s pledge by protecting themselves and customers. President of Lebanon and Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, Melanie Minter says that it is a morale boost for the community to help everyone feel comfortable by showing those particular businesses are using safe methods. LINK

Tennessee bringing free, voluntary COVID-19 testing to Chattanooga Housing Authority neighborhoods this week (Times Free Press) Tennessee National Guard medical personnel will be in Hamilton County on Thursday and Friday to help the Chattanooga Housing Authority provide free, voluntary COVID-19 testing to families and residents at four CHA communities, Gov. Bill Lee’s administration announced Wednesday. “This will be our fourth testing event with housing authorities in Tennessee’s major metropolitan areas in our effort to expand COVID-19 testing in our state,” said state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, noting the effort will be conducted by Lee’s Unified Command Group. LINK

Tennessee releases new guidelines for reopening restaurants, retail and large attractions (WSMV-TV Nashville) The Tennessee Economic Recovery Group has issued updated guidelines for restaurants and retails stores to lift capacity restrictions, as well as new guidelines enabling attractions and large venues to reopen with social distancing and capacity restrictions. In a release from Governor Bill Lee’s office, the new guidelines will go into effect on Friday, May 22. The weakened restrictions apply to 86 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison and Sullivan counties may continue to follow individual, county-specific reopening plans created in consultation with state and local health departments. LINK

State issues guidance on expanded reopening (Tennessean) Under new guidelines released by Tennessee on Wednesday, restaurants and retail stores are allowed to increase capacity in their businesses, as long as restaurants seat patrons six feet apart or install physical barriers when proper distancing isn’t possible. The new guidelines go into effect Friday for most Tennessee counties, while Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties are following individualized reopening plans. LINK

State allows increased capacity in restaurants, retail, attractions (WTVF-TV Nashville) Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group released updated COVID-19 guidelines for retail, restaurants and large attractions, allowing them to increase customer capacity on or after May 22. The guidelines apply to a majority of the state, but not all of them. The following six counties are still under their own county COVID-19 restrictions: Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan. LINK

Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group issues updated guidance for restaurants and retail, allows for large attractions to open (WRCB-TV Chattanooga) Tennessee continues to advance the state’s reopening plan under the Tennessee Pledge, as the Economic Recovery Group issued updated guidelines today for restaurants and retail, along with new guidelines that enable attractions and larger venues to reopen with social distancing and capacity restrictions on or after May 22. The State continues to meet the White House gating criteria with a downward trend in case growth, increase in testing capability, and sufficient hospital capacity. “Tennesseans have worked hard to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state, and their efforts have allowed us to continue to reopen our economy further,” said Governor Bill Lee. LINK

State releases new guidance for reopening restaurants, retail, and large attractions (WKRN-TV Nashville) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and the Economic Recovery Group have released new guidelines for reopening restaurants and retail, as well as guidelines to enable attractions and larger venues to reopen with social distancing and capacity restrictions on or after May 22. According to officials, Tennessee continues to meet White House criteria with a downward trend in case growth, an increase in testing capability, and sufficient hospital capacity. The new guidelines apply to 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties; excluding Davidson, Shelby, Madison, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan counties who can continue to follow individual, county-specific reopening plans. LINK

Tennessee releases new guidelines for restaurants, retailers, large attractions (WZTV-TV Nashville) Tennessee Governor Lee announced Wednesday guidelines lifting capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail effective May 22 and the reopening larger attractions like amusement parks, theaters and waterparks. The weakened restrictions apply to 89 counties in the state. Six counties – Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan – will follow their own county-specific reopening plans. LINK

Tennessee Reopens Performance Venues, So Long As Singer Has A 15-Foot Spit Zone (WPLN Radio Nashville) The state of Tennessee is now allowing restaurants and retail businesses to increase capacity, so long as social-distancing recommendations can still be met. Starting this weekend, establishments will no longer have capacity restrictions. And entertainment venues can reopen, though they have some very specific guidance that was just released Wednesday afternoon (listed here, like suspending “pop-up” performances that might gather an uncontrollable crowd). At performance venues, musicians are supposed to be kept 15 feet away from audiences as a sort of spit zone, since singing expels more germs than speaking does. LINK

TN releases new guidelines for restaurants, retails businesses, live music, large noncontact venues (WATE-TV Knoxville) The state of Tennessee is continuing to loosen restrictions on businesses and updating guidelines Wednesday as the state continues to follow the reopening plan under the Tennessee Pledge. On Wednesday, the Economic Recovery Group issued updated guidelines for restaurants and retail businesses; along with new guidelines enabling attractions and larger venues to reopen with social distancing and capacity restrictions on or after Friday, May 22. LINK

Restaurants, retailers can increase capacity; live music permitted; large attractions can re-open Friday (Oak Ridge Today) Restaurants and retail stores in most of Tennessee’s counties can increase their capacity starting Friday if they follow certain guidelines, and large attractions such as amusement and water parks, auditoriums and theaters, and zoos and large museums can re-open under certain conditions on Friday. Restaurants and retailers had been limited to 50 percent capacity since re-opening the week of April 27. There is no certain capacity limit for restaurants, as a percentage, under the updated guidelines released by the Tennessee Economic Recovery Group on Wednesday. Instead, the focus is on making sure tables are properly spaced. LINK

Tennessee issues updated guidance for restaurants, retail & large attractions (WVLT-TV Knoxville) Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group issued updated guidelines for restaurants, retail establishments and large attractions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the updated guidelines, restaurants, retail establishments and large attractions can reopen with social distancing and capacity restrictions on or after May 22. “Tennesseans have worked hard to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state, and their efforts have allowed us to continue to reopen our economy further,” said Governor Bill Lee. LINK

State issues new guidelines for businesses; allows reopening of attractions (WBBJ-TV Jackson) The state of Tennessee is taking more steps towards easing restrictions that were placed on businesses due to COVID-19. The state issued guidelines on Wednesday that say retailers and restaurants could increase their capacity so long as social distancing measures stay in effect, according to a news release from the governor’s office. These updated guidelines say restaurants should continue to space tables 6 feet apart, and place a physical barrier where social distancing cannot be practiced, the release says. LINK

Hamilton County to expand restaurant, retail operations, and larger venues to reopen on May 22 (WRCB-TV Chattanooga) The Hamilton County Health Department is ordering the expanded operations based on the authority delegated by Governor Bill Lee through the Tennessee Pledge. All restaurants, retail stores, non-contact attractions and venues including concert and performance venues, amusement and water parks, auditoriums, theaters and dinner theaters, zoos, large museums and more can also reopen safely under new Tennessee Pledge guidelines. LINK

Governor Lee lifting restrictions on restaurants, larger attractions (Erwin Record) As Tennessee continues to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the state’s Economic Recovery Group announced on Friday, May 15, that it will lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail to instead focus on social distancing best practices effective May 22. The group also announced plans to issue guidelines to facilitate the safe reopening of larger, non-contact attractions on or after May 22. New guidelines as part of the Tennessee Pledge, which is a plan to reopen the state, are expected to be released soon. LINK

Local business owners to learn how to ‘Recover Together’ (Johnson City Press) As Tennessee’s economy gradually reopens, business owners are considering the best strategies for their return and exploring how the novel coronavirus outbreak will influence future business operations. To help, East Tennessee State University’s Tennessee Small Business Development Center will continue its free weekly webinar “Recover Together: Reopening Discussion and Best Practices,” giving local business owners a chance to share their insights. LINK

Local businesses react to updated guidance for restaurants, retail & large attractions in Tenn. (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group issued updated guidance for restaurants, retail establishments, and large attractions on reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Director of the state Economic Recovery Group Mark Ezell told New Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the group is taking great consideration before setting these guidelines.“With all the guidelines that we do we are always checking with the health department in making sure that our mitigation of COVID-19 is being successful and Tennessee is at a point where we’ve been able to open up businesses and still have plenty of capacity in our healthcare that we can take care of those businesses and allow them to open,” he said. LINK

Gov. Lee pushed every Tennessee nursing home to conduct COVID-19 testing. Weeks later, only 29% have done so (Tennessean) Tennessee’s 700 long-term care facilities are well short of a goal to test all residents and employees for COVID-19 before the end of the month, according to a top official in Gov. Bill Lee’s administration. The governor last month announced the sweeping initiative to, by the end of May, conduct or schedule testing at all of the state’s long-term care facilities, which account for nearly half of Tennessee’s deaths from the virus. LINK

Knoxville Area Transit among other transit programs to receive grant from the state (WATE-TV Knoxville) Knoxville Area Transit is listed as one of the three entities chosen for the Transit and Shuttle Bus Grant Program from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) … “These grants will allow us to provide energy efficient buses for transit systems in three of our largest communities, where mass transit is a key service. These grants meet a need and meet the spirit of the settlement,” Gov. Bill Lee said. LINK

Shelby County transit nets state grant for electric buses (Daily Memphian) The Memphis Area Transit Authority will receive more than $2.1 million in grant funds from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to buy electric buses as part of a settlement with Volkswagen. The state announced Wednesday, May 20, three entities will receive $5,690,845.53 total in grant funding to support transit bus replacement projects across Tennessee, including the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority and City of Knoxville (Knoxville Area Transit). Memphis Area Transit Authority funds will go to support the replacement of three diesel transit buses with three all-electric transit buses in addition to acquisition and installation of infrastructure needed to charge the vehicles. LINK

Tennessee families can access SNAP benefits online (WATE-TV Knoxville) More options are coming to families who have Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits due to the pandemic. Families in Tennessee can now use SNAP benefits to buy food online through Amazon and Walmart. More independent retailers will soon also start accepting those benefits online. The program is already available in several states, including Kentucky. The Secretary of Agriculture expanding it to 13 states ultimately giving online buying power to 90% of SNAP families in the US. LINK

Grant will help Tennessee recruit hospital psychiatrists (AP) The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has received $200,000 to recruit physicians to the state’s regional mental health hospitals, according to a news release from the agency. The funding comes from the Tennessee Center for Health Workforce Development, which is part of the Tennessee Hospital Association and can be used for things like sign-on bonuses, relocation expenses and student loan repayment. The state can use the funds to recruit psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners for its hospitals in Bolivar, Chattanooga, Memphis and Nashville, according to the release. LINK

Department of Labor offers update on call volumes, solutions for claimants (WZTV-TV Nashville) Tennessee’s Department of Labor continues to receive between 50,000 and 100,000 calls per day from people needing help with their unemployment claim. Since the pandemic’s beginning, the number of call agents has risen from 20 to 420. However, that number seems small in comparison to the 50,000 Tennesseans who currently have pending claims needing attention. LINK

Extended unemployment benefits are available Tennesseans who have exhausted their options (WCYB-TV Bristol) More than a half-million unemployment claims have been filed in Tennessee in the past two months. Extended benefits will now be available to people who have exhausted all other options. The pandemic extended unemployment compensation provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits. TN Department of Labor and Workforce spokesman Chris Cannon says this program helps those who have exhausted their benefits. LINK

Returning to UT this fall: Start date could change and classes will look different (Tennessean) The University of Tennessee System has released a list of “best practices” for returning to campuses this fall, including possible changes to the class schedules and how students get around on campus. Plans for re-opening campus should extend for at least 18 to 24 months, until a vaccine or treatment has been developed, the task force said. The task force also acknowledged that returning to campus poses a risk for spreading the virus, and “several factors combine to make it unlikely that transmission of COVID-19 can be eliminated with typical campus activities.” LINK

UT system task force releases guidelines for reopening campuses in the fall (WRCB-TV Chattanooga) Universities across the country are also coming up with ways to reopen the campus to students and staff, including the volunteer state. The UT School System’s COVID-19 task force has released guidelines aimed at reopening campuses by fall. The UTC representative on the task force, Dr. Christine Smith with the School of Nursing, says nothing right now is set in stone as they continue to figure out safety guidelines for universities this fall. LINK

UT campuses to reopen to students this fall (WMC-TV Memphis) The University of Tennessee will welcome students back to its campuses this fall. School leaders unveiled a plan Wednesday, aimed at doing it safely. UT has formed a COVID-19 task force which proposes best practices for reopening and keeping students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community safe. The task force suggests offering classes both in-person and online. When a student feels comfortable returning to classrooms — every effort to avoid transmission of coronavirus will be made. LINK

TSU launches ‘COVID-19 Academy’ to help community affected by pandemic (WTVF-TV Nashville) Tennessee State University has launched an outreach program called “COVID-19 Academy” to aid under-served communities in Nashville who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. The program will connect residents with health services, food banks and employment and educational resources. “TSU has established the COVID-19 Academy to continue efforts to help the Nashville community as it recovers from the pandemic,” said TSU President Glenda Glover. LINK

Local universities plan for students to return to campus in fall (WREG-TV Memphis) Schools are still trying to plan for the fall, and that includes colleges and universities. Classes in institutions of higher education may look much different by the time next semester arrives. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center was quiet Wednesday like most campuses lately, as learning has mostly been moved online. “Online classes is really pretty good, but everybody I know is itching to get back in class as quickly as possible,” UTHSC physical therapy student Thomas Ewing said. LINK

Nashville estimates $38.8M in COVID-19 costs eligible so far for stimulus spending (Tennessean) Nashville’s emergency response to COVID-19 has so far incurred an estimated $38.8 million in related costs that could be eligible to be covered by Metro’s federal relief dollars as officials work to create a process for disbursement. Metro Finance has set up a COVID-19 Pandemic fund and a running ledger to track expenses that could be funded by the city’s $121 million stimulus as part of the CARES Act. In a memo to council members Tuesday, Mayor John Cooper said the funds will not be disbursed without transparency and without council approval. LINK

Nashville’s Humming Hotel Business Now Has Just One In Five Rooms Filled (WPLN Radio Nashville) Just one in five Nashville hotel rooms were occupied in the month of April, and visitors were paying half as much as they did in the heady months before the coronavirus — just $71.35 a night, on average. The hotel data tracking firm STR has been publishing monthly statistics on Nashville since 2013, and never have the numbers been this low. Revenue for hotels is down 89% from the same month last year. LINK

Daycares change procedures to keep kids safe (WZTV-TV Nashville) As Nashville opens back up, and parents head to work, kids will start going to daycare again. Day care centers were considered essential businesses, but some decided to close anyway. Now, many are reopening in phases. At Creative Care Center, they are doing all outside pick-ups and drop-offs. That’s one of the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. LINK

Knox County will move into Phase 2 on Tuesday — bars, pools and more can open (News Sentinel) Knox County will move into Phase 2 of its coronavirus pandemic businesses reopening plan beginning Tuesday. Phase 2 allows additional types of businesses to open and eases up on social distancing restrictions that were designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. More specific guidelines and regulations will be available for businesses owners later this week, said Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department. LINK

Glenn Jacobs, lawmakers pressure Knox County Health Department to accelerate reopening (News Sentinel) In mid-March, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs took to Twitter to explain why the county didn’t declare a state of emergency like the city of Knoxville had done only hours before. It would be necessary, he said in the 1 minute, 17 second video clip, only if the county had to shift money to the health department. “But at this point the Knox County Health Department – who is running point – has the resources they need.” LINK

Which East Tennessee attractions are reopening after coronavirus closures? (WBIR-TV Knoxville) As Tennessee continues to reopen, many attractions are announcing their plans to reopen soon. The state announced Friday it will be lifting the 50% capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail stores, effective May 22. The state will also allow large non-contact attractions to open on May 22. These include any business that can practice social distancing with strong measures to protect employees and customers, including racetracks, amusement parks, water parks, theaters, dinner theaters, museums, auditoriums and more. LINK

Memphis overflow hospital among most expensive in country (WMC-TV Memphis) With a price tag of $51.3 million, the COVID-19 overflow hospital at the former Commercial Appeal building is one of the most expensive projects of its kind in the country. There was a much cheaper alternative available at the Gateway Shopping Center about six miles away, but officials say it wasn’t the better option. On Monday, leaders gathered in front of the new 400-bed overflow hospital on Union Avenue for the official handoff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the State of Tennessee. “What this is, is a representation of how a community can come together in the midst of a crisis,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. “The work that’s been done here in the last 30 days is incredible.” LINK

Elvis Presley’s Graceland reopens to the public today (WHBQ-TV Memphis) Elvis Presley’s Graceland announced it will welcome back guests beginning today. The iconic Memphis tourist attraction has reconfigured operations – tours, retail and restaurants – to meet or exceed social distancing, capacity and health and safety guidelines, according to a press release. Mansion tours have been reduced to 25% capacity, allowing guests to walk through the home in more space. LINK

Local nursing homes on COVID-19 list, state officials evade questions (WCYB-TV Bristol) Dominion Senior Living facilities in both Johnson City and Bristol each reported two positive cases of COVID-19, but all of those people have since tested negative. A spokesperson for Dominion did not want to speak on camera but said none of the residents showed any symptoms of the virus. He says everyone was retested two weeks later and those results came back negative. The people who tested positive were quarantined and staff used full protective equipment. In April, five other local nursing homes ended up on the state list with false positive tests. The listings were later removed. LINK

Bars, nightclubs to reopen as Jackson prepares to enter phase four (WBBJ-TV Jackson) By the end of the week, we’ll be in phase four of reopening in Jackson and Madison County. If you’re ready to go back to the bars and nightclubs, you’ve got just a few more days. “I think that would be the beginning of phase four,” said City of Jackson Mayor Scott Conger. But there still will be some restrictions. There will be no dance floors and bar tops will still be closed. Instead, they encourage setting up tables that are six feet apart. There can be live music, but the artists have to be at least 15 feet away from the customers. LINK

COVID-19 update: 154 new cases, nursing homes still focus (Nashville Post) The Tennessee Department of Health has reported a total of 18,532 cases of COVID-19 across the state, up 154 cases from the number on Tuesday afternoon. Of those people, 1,515 individuals have been hospitalized and 309 people have died, up 17 and four in 24 hours, respectively. Nearly 7,890 test results were processed and reported since Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 354,013 people tested. LINK

TDH: Tennessee records third-lowest daily COVID-19 case count in last month (WCYB-TV Bristol) There are 18,532 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 309 deaths related to the virus in Tennessee, according to numbers released by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) Wednesday. This is an increase of 154 cases and an increase of 4 deaths compared to Tuesday. The case increase was the third-lowest daily case count in the last month. There were 1,515 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 reported. A total of 11,783 people have recovered, an increase of 814 over Tuesday. LINK

Tennessee Health Dept. reports 154 new COVID-19 cases in one day, bringing total to 18,532 (WZTV-TV Nashville) There are now 18,532 cases of novel coronavirus confirmed in Tennessee, including 309 deaths related to COVID-19. That marks a rise of 1547 reported cases and four deaths in one day. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Tennessee has tested 354,013 people. Right now, there are 1,515 hospitalizations and 11,783 recoveries. LINK

Shelby County Health Department defends use of COVID-19 patient data for first responder (WMC-TV Memphis) The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators said in a written letter Monday that people getting tested for COVID-19 should not provide their physical address to testing agencies, as a way of preserving their privacy. Tuesday, the Shelby County Health Department responded. “The more information we have in the public health system, the more effectively we can get people isolated and quarantined,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director, “So at a minimum, we need to know a person’s correct name, and we need to know how to access that person.” LINK

Tennessee State Museum gets reaccredited, wins award for food exhibition (TN Journal) The Tennessee State Museum has been awarded a renewed accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. The facility also won an award from the American Association for State and Local History for an exhibition titled “Let’s Eat! The Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food.” LINK

Appeals Court decision puts voucher program in jeopardy for 2020-21 (Daily Memphian) Tennessee’s Education Savings Account program is in trouble for the coming school year, lawmakers say, after the state Court of Appeals upheld a decision enjoining the state from executing it until the legal case is decided. The court scheduled oral arguments in the case for Aug. 5, around the time the next school year would begin, though the exact schedule for Shelby County Schools remains uncertain. The state and intervening parents are challenging a Davidson County Chancery Court ruling that the program is unconstitutional because it violates Tennessee’s Home Rule Amendment prohibiting the Legislature from singling out counties without local approval. LINK

Democrats call for action on unemployment claims as jobless wait weeks for benefits (Tennessean) Representatives from several districts across Tennessee are calling on Gov. Bill Lee for more transparency and action as their inboxes flood with thousands of pleas from Tennesseans who have gone weeks without receiving unemployment payments. “Right now, Bill Lee is failing working Tennesseans when they need the state’s help the most,” State Rep. John Clemmons said during a video media conference Wednesday. “He continues to ignore this issue or fails to give it the attention that it deserves.” LINK

State Democrats demand answers for Tennesseans’ unemployment struggles (WATE-TV Knoxville) Thousands of Tennesseans are still waiting for their unemployment claims to be processed as many were left without jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis. Some of these people have been left in limbo for the last two months since the start of the pandemic is Tennessee and now, state Democrats are pushing for answers; saying they deserve an explanation for the hold-up. LINK

TN Department of Labor begins extended unemployment benefits programs, those waiting remain skeptical (WSMV-TV Nashville) On a conference zoom chat this morning, News4 heard the cries from people across the state. “There’s nobody to talk to! It’s impossible!! I’ve tried it 100 times,” Knoxville resident Paul Mohlman said. It’s why State Reps. Gloria Johnson, John Ray Clemmons and Jason Hodges are calling on more accountability from Gov. Bill Lee and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. LINK

Legislators put faces to the thousands of unpaid unemployment claims (WTVF-TV Nashville) Tennessee legislators are working to personalize the stories behind unemployment claims, which they feel have been largely forgotten by Governor Bill Lee. The Zoom meeting organized by state representatives John Ray Clemmons, Gloria Johnson and Jason Hodges was a call to action for the governor’s office. LINK

Some Tennesseans entering ninth week with no unemployment checks (WZTV-TV Nashville) As cities across the country continue the gradual restart of their economies, Metro Nashville could possibly move into phase two of the reopening process as early as Monday. Pending word from Mayor Cooper, this would include the opening of hair and nail salons, and allow 3/4 capacity at restaurants and retail stores. But even as we try to push forward, many Tennesseans still feel stuck, because some are now going on week nine with no unemployment checks, and no answers. Today, several democratic lawmakers called on Governor Bill Lee to address these issues, and get Tennesseans the help and money they need to survive. Most of us can’t imagine going one week without pay, much less eight or nine weeks. LINK

Black Caucus urges governor to stop COVID information-sharing with police (Daily Memphian) The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is formally requesting Gov. Bill Lee rescind a program allowing personal information of COVID-positive people to be shared with law enforcement. If not, the group is advising Tennesseans to give other information but not their street address when tested if they’re concerned about privacy. In a May 18, 2020, letter to the governor, the Black Caucus said it remains “adamantly opposed” to the Tennessee Health Department’s practice of “unnecessarily violating the individual privacy rights” of state residents by sharing personal health information with law enforcement agencies, which would normally be protected by federal health privacy laws. LINK

Tennessee lawmaker says taxing illegal immigrant wire transfers could help budget ‘woes’ (WZTV-TV Nashville) A Tennessee lawmaker is expressing his belief a bill he proposed targeting out-of-country wire transfers would help solve budget issues due to the COVID-19 outbreak. State Representative Bruce Griffey submitted a letter to local media editors stating a bill he and Senator Mark Pody sponsored could generate $742 million for the state each fiscal year. LINK

Ramsey, Lundberg join Crowe’s campaign (Johnson City Press) Two veteran lawmakers have joined state Sen. Rusty Crowe’s campaign for Tennessee’s 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Former Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, will serve as chairman and co-chairman of Crowe’s campaign. “They’ll be advising me relative to issues, advising me as to the relative parts of the district that they’re familiar with,” Crowe said. LINK

Crowe names Ramsey, Lundberg to congressional campaign staff (WJHL-TV Johnson City) State Sen. Rusty Crowe announced Wednesday that former Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and State Sen. Jon Lundberg have joined his congressional campaign. Ramsey will serve as chair and Lundberg as co-chair of Crowe’s campaign for the First Congressional District seat that is being vacated by Rep. Phil Roe, who announced his retirement in January. “I’m honored to have Lt. Gov. Ramsey and Sen. Lundberg endorsing me and co-chairing my campaign,” Crowe said. LINK

Senator Alexander: Tennessee schools ‘may have to develop a culture of wearing masks’ next school year (WJHL-TV Johnson City) U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander said schools in Tennessee should prepare to take necessary precautions as plans to start the next school year take shape. “The question isn’t ‘should they go back?’, it’s ‘should they go back safely?’” Senator Alexander said. In an interview with News Channel 11 on Wednesday, Alexander said schools should focus on COVID-19 testing and be ready to isolate students who show any symptoms. Senator Alexander also said schools in the state “may have to develop a culture of wearing masks,” which he says most students would likely prefer over continuing school at home. LINK

Biden taps Tennessee senator for unity group (Nashville Post) Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has tapped state Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) as part of a task force designed to unite his wing of the party with that of Bernie Sanders, who was his last challenger to drop out of the race. The task force includes groups dedicated to climate change, criminal justice reform, the economy, education, health care and education and includes appointees from both Biden and Sanders. LINK

Walmart’s U.S. Boss Expects Coronavirus to Alter Shopping Permanently (WSJ) When John Furner became chief executive of Walmart Inc.’s WMT 0.40% U.S. operations last year, the biggest challenge was Inc. Now Mr. Furner—who began his career at the company in 1993 as an hourly store worker and most recently led Walmart’s Sam’s Club—is leading the largest business unit at the country’s largest retailer during a global pandemic, working to keep stores open and speed the company’s shift to e-commerce. This week, Walmart reported a 10% jump in U.S. sales during the most recent quarter, as shoppers stockpiled food, toilet paper and other household goods. U.S. e-commerce sales rose 74% as more shoppers switched to online ordering. LINK


Guest column: Two public health crises, two different responses (Tennessean) While families all across America are grappling with an unprecedented public health crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, families like mine are still dealing with the lasting effects of another public health crisis: the opioid epidemic. The opioid epidemic, like the COVID-19 pandemic, has upended communities and taken lives, more than 47,000 in 2018. That is where the similarities end. LINK

Otis Sanford: Ida B. Wells Park’ strikes just the right note (Daily Memphian) I can envision it clearly without a hint of impossible dreaming or wishful thinking. The park along Union Avenue just east of Downtown Memphis that was once named in honor of Confederate general and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest being rechristened as Ida B. Wells Park. What better way to honor the life and legacy of a courageous journalist, civil rights icon and now a Pulitzer Prize winner? A strong, educated and fearless black woman who is without question one of this city’s most underappreciated historic figures. LINK

Otis Sanford: It’s time for Gov. Bill Lee to pull the plug on school vouchers (WATN-TV Memphis) The time has come for Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and others in his administration to face reality. The much-maligned school voucher program is not going to happen this coming school year. The courts are simply unwilling to allow families of students who might be eligible for voucher money – to pin their hopes on something that’s very likely unconstitutional. The Education Savings Account program was Governor Lee’s crowning achievement during his first year in office. But it was suspect from the beginning, and narrowly passed in the legislature by a single House vote. LINK

TN Rep. London Lamar: Tennessee’s women need full range of reproductive options even during COVID-19 (Tennessean) As the only black woman of reproductive age in the Tennessee State House, I often find myself reminding my colleagues of the realities black women face: inadequate and unequal pay, managing child care challenges, oftentimes with no paid family leave, educational inequities and navigating hurdles to access health care. The same challenges we faced outside the COVID-19 pandemic are the same yet amplified challenges we’re facing in the pandemic. No one stops needing reproductive health care and support in a public health crisis. LINK

Tennessee Voices: A conversation with Jeff Bradford (Tennessean) Tennessean Opinion Editor David Plazas spoke to Jeff Bradford, CEO of The Bradford Group LINK

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